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Inhalers and your oral health | What’s the impact and what to do

  • Author: Shelby Tatomir

Inhalers are a part of everyday life for some people. If you live with a condition like asthma or allergies, using an inhaler is a daily occurrence. You probably already know how to care for your inhaler. But what about your oral health? Did you know that you can get oral thrush from inhalers? And they can increase your risk of cavities!

Using an inhaler improperly can lead to a yeast infection in your mouth, which sounds about as appealing as “oral thrush,” also called “oral candidiasis.” Symptoms of a yeast infection in your mouth include: an unpleasant taste or even the loss of taste altogether, a burning sensation, redness inside, and even white patches.

If you have these symptoms, visit your dentist as soon as possible to prevent the infection from spreading elsewhere. Treating the condition is easy.  And don’t worry, it’s not contagious.

How does using an inhaler lead to oral thrush?

Your inhaler delivers a corticosteroid (a steroid) into your lungs via air flow through your mouth. While we’d like the medicine to go where it’s needed most, some of it can remain in your mouth on your tongue, cheeks, or even between your teeth.

If the medicine stays in these places for too long, you can develop a yeast infection in your mouth – oral thrush - as the steroid feeds bacterial in your mouth.

What about a higher risk of cavities?

Anti-inflammatory medications like corticosteroids can cause dry mouth too, and a dry mouth increases your risk of cavities.  Without enough saliva in your mouth, bacteria and plaque can build up in the mouth. This makes a person more vulnerable to gum disease and tooth decay.

The good news is that preventing dry mouth or oral thrush from your inhaler is pretty easy.

Four things that will help:

Rinse your mouth after using an inhaler — Drinking water after using your inhaler can significantly lower your risk of developing oral thrush. Swish it around to flush out remaining medicine and clean away any residue left behind. Water cleanses the mouth and stimulates saliva flow, which is good for protecting your teeth.

Use a spacerAsthma spacers are designed to help in two ways. They “improve hand-breath coordination,” to improve proper use. Some people have trouble limiting their inhalation capacity or not holding their breath for long enough for the medicine to work. The spacer makes this easier. It also reduces the amount of medicine deposited into the mouth.

Brush and floss regularly — Know the best way to keep unwanted debris, weather food or medicine, from turning into an issue in your mouth? Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once per day.

Visit your dentist — A trip to the dentist is about more than X-rays and cleanings. Your oral health provider can detect other problems like an oral thrush infection or even cancers and other concerning issues. When you go:

  • Tell your dentist you have asthma;
  • Explain the medications and dose prescribed by your doctor; and
  • Take your inhaler with you.

By knowing your condition and looking into your mouth, your dentist can become familiar with your oral health. Routine visits allow them to notice any changes or potentially harmful developments.

For more, check out our blog.